The Mandela memorial selfie elicited much righteous indignation. But, like the teens on my site, these leaders are merely using a new visual language to express mixed emotions
At Nelson Mandela’s memorial service yesterday, the US president, Barack Obama, said: “Let us search for his largeness of spirit somewhere inside of ourselves.” And, he could have added, inside our selfies. At that same event, Obama smooshed heads with the Danish and British prime ministers for what is arguably the most epic funeral selfie of all time. Dozens of people quickly tweeted me about it, which pleased me greatly. I was the guy who, with a viral Tumblr called Selfies at Funerals, made “funeral selfie” one of the most noxious phrases of 2013.
I immediately posted the picture to my site and announced it would be the last: “Obama has taken a funeral selfie, so our work here is done.” To be fair, a memorial service isn’t exactly a funeral, and although Obama’s hand was on the camera, Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt was the primary holder. But still. Shut it down!
This was the culmination of a social media curiosity that began in August, when, just to see what would happen, I typed the words “selfie” and “funeral” into Twitter’s search bar. Staring back at me was a global parade of mostly doe-eyed teens, photographing themselves and writing things like, “Love my hair today. Hate why I’m dressed up #funeral.” I collected the images, which elicited the web’s most natural emotional state – righteous indignation – and a global debate about the nature of mourning and respect.
Many people interpreted funeral selfies as further evidence of millenials’ self-centeredness. I didn’t. Had my parents’ or grandparents’ generation grown up with the kind of social media tools that today’s teens have, they’d have done equally embarrassing things for all the world to see. This isn’t the nature of kids today; it’s just the nature of kids. And anyway, when a teen tweets out a funeral selfie, their friends don’t castigate them. They understand that their friend, in their own way, is expressing an emotion they may not have words for. It’s a visual language that older people – even those like me, in their 30s – simply don’t speak.
You’d think Obama would be more aware about such imagery. But I’d hazard to guess that he, too, was speaking a language the rest of us aren’t. The world’s leaders were celebrating the more equitable, beautiful world Nelson Mandela left behind, and that multi-leader selfie was its perfect encapsulation. No funeral is 100% sadness. It’s a mixture of loss and celebration, of life in all its parts. Mandela’s legacy will contain all of that. If I were seated next to Obama, I’d have wanted to take a selfie with him too.
My Tumblr was once a collection of evidence, convincing the world that something very strange actually existed, but now everyone believes, and everyone has seen, and Thorning-Schmidt has the evidence on her phone. So it was time to do the only sensible thing: It was time to declare victory, to revel in drawing a line from the bottom to the top.
I won’t miss it. I’m not even tempted to post another image. That is, unless the pope takes a funeral selfie. Then I’ll return for one more. Your move, Your Holiness.
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663879/s/34af9606/sc/40/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Ccommentisfree0C20A130Cdec0C110Cobama0Efuneral0Eselfie0Etumblr0Emandela0Eteens/story01.htm